Myanmar’s generals ordered internet providers to restrict access to Facebook on Thursday, as UN chief Antonio Guterres said the world must rally to ensure the military coup fails.
The Southeast Asian nation was plunged back into direct military rule on Monday as de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders were detained in a series of dawn raids, ending the country’s brief experiment with democracy.
The coup sparked international condemnation and fears that the military would drag 54 million people back to the decades of junta rule that turned Myanmar into one of Asia’s most impoverished and repressive nations.
With soldiers back on the streets of major cities, the takeover has not been met by any large street protests.
But people have flocked to social media to voice opposition and share plans for civil disobedience — especially on Facebook.
“We have digital power […] so we’ve been using this since day one to oppose the military junta,” said activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi, who’s behind a so-called “Civil Disobedience Movement” fanning out across social media platforms.
Telenor, one of the country’s main telecoms providers, confirmed on Thursday that authorities had ordered it to “temporarily block” Facebook access.
The Norwegian-owned company said it had to comply but “does not believe that the request is based on necessity and proportionality, in accordance with international human rights law”.
Facebook confirmed access “is currently disrupted for some people” and urged authorities to restore connectivity.
NetBlocks, which monitors internet outages around the world, said the disruptions were also affecting Facebook-owned apps such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
“The first thing we look at each morning is our phone, the last thing we look at in the night is our phone,” Aye, a 32-year-old entrepreneur opposed to the coup, told AFP.
A small rally kicked off on Thursday in front of Mandalay Medicine University, saw protesters carrying signs that said “People’s protest against the military coup!”.
Local media said police arrested four people, although authorities could not confirm the detentions to AFP.
‘Coup must fail’
Army chief Min Aung Hlaing’s coup has left the international community scrambling to respond.
On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Guterres said he would pressure Myanmar’s generals to reverse course, in his most forceful comments yet.
“We will do everything we can to mobilise all the key actors and international community to put enough pressure on Myanmar to make sure that this coup fails,” Guterres told The Washington Post.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable to reverse the results of the elections and the will of the people.”
Min Aung Hlaing justified his coup by alleging widespread voter fraud during November’s election.
Suu Kyi, who has not been seen in public since she was detained, won a huge landslide with her National League for Democracy (NLD), while the military’s favoured parties received a drubbing.
Myanmar’s junta-era constitution ensures the military retains considerable influence, including a quarter of parliamentary seats and control of key ministries.
But analysts say top generals feared their influence was waning and were dismayed by the enduring appeal of Suu Kyi.
On Wednesday, authorities brought an obscure charge against the 75-year-old to justify her ongoing detention.
According to her party, she was charged with an offence under Myanmar’s import and export law after authorities found unregistered walkie-talkies at her home.
The United States said it was “disturbed” by the charge.
Myanmar’s military has declared a one-year state of emergency and said it would hold new elections once its allegations were addressed.
That has caused huge anger inside the nation, but opposing the military is fraught with risk.
During junta rule, dissent was quashed with thousands of activists — including Suu Kyi — detained for years on end.
Censorship was pervasive and the military frequently deployed lethal force, most notably during huge protests in 1988 and 2007.
The new government has already issued a warning telling people not to say or post anything that might “encourage riots or an unstable situation”.
The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Tuesday but failed to agree on a statement condemning the coup.
To be adopted, it required the support of China and Russia, which both wield veto power as permanent Security Council members and are Myanmar’s main supporters at the UN.